MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And it's hard to believe, but it's that time of year again, time for annual Traditions show. We've headed all around the region this week to find intriguing customs and rituals being practiced, from family traditions…
MS. ANN SABLOSKY
It may just be for a few minutes, but we have this very special time with our family.
…to community traditions.
Tell them that it's very festive.
And that you enjoy seeing all the lights.
I enjoy seeing all the lights.
It makes you happy, doesn't it?
And, lest you think we're just focusing on the holidays, we've found plenty of traditions around the everyday stuff of life.
MR. NEERAJ MISTRY
These are chapattis and we grew up eating this in South Africa.
But we'll start with a fairly new tradition in Washington, D.C., one that began right here in a church basement in Foggy Bottom. It's 8:15 on a Monday and dozens of people, mostly men, gather around the big, brightly lit room. Some sit at tables, polishing off plates of French toast. Others wander around, chatting and joking. And others, half a dozen or so, sit at a table in the corner.
MS. GRACE OVERBEKE
So it looks like The Group is already assembled.
So we can just go over there and sit with them and start the workshop.
Grace Overbeke is the head of this workshop, where participants tell personal stories based on the week's chosen theme. Today it's Hurricane Sandy.
I waited in the rain until 8:30. I went to Union Station. I scrounged some food. Went back to sleep on the steps of a church…
If someone had to sleep outside, then it could be very, very difficult to survive in those…
Because I know when we had the storm and stuck in the shelter for two days and couldn't leave and then the subway was shut down, the bus was shut, that was depressing for me.
Picking up on a trend here? Well, here's the thing, the members of Grace's Monologue Group, as it's called, have one very particular thing in common.
They're experiencing homelessness.
See, the basement we're visiting is actually the headquarters of Miriam's Kitchen, a day shelter that provides Washington's homeless with food, clothing, haircuts, legal aid and now an opportunity to tell their story. Grace began the Monologue Group in May after an encounter with a homeless woman near Logan Circle.
She asked if I had any money for food. And I was like, well, I was actually just about to get a sandwich. So she came and we got a sandwich together. And she started talking about her experience at this shelter where she had just been kicked out because she had got in a fight over a sleeping bag.
This conversation, says Grace, opened her eyes.
It was such a humanizing afternoon.
And her ears.
And it made me very interested in people's stories.
Grace works full time at Theater J, which has been partnering with Miriam's Kitchen by offering guests free tickets to shows and personal post-show discussions with cast members. So in June, Grace took that partnership one step further with the very first "Stories From the Kitchen," an evening of monologues culled from her Monologue Group and performed by D.C.-area actors at Theater J.
The guests whose stories were told were so moved because they felt like someone was listening to them and that the actors playing them knew how they felt, which they did because they put in all this time and work, you know, hearing their words and getting to that point where they could feel what that person felt.
The idea, Grace says, isn't for actors to imitate guests' voices, but rather to use their rhythm and cadence to capture their character, their personality. That's why, as she prepares for the next "Stories From the Kitchen" on Dec. 19, she uses a hand-held recorder to record her Monologue Group members, like one of the guys we heard from earlier, John.
Because I know when we had the storm and stuck in the shelter for two days and couldn't leave and then…
Then Grace plays the recording…
…for the actor performing the monologue, in this case Sasha Olinick, so he can rehearse it.
MR. SASHA OLINICK
There was a guy, he was locked in the shelter and he was talking the Bible for two days. I mean, it's cool, but it was like really getting on my nerves, you know. And not being able to go anywhere, but he made one good point about Sandy and how in the Gospels, it says in the parable of the wise and the foolish builders that the wise man builds his house on a rock, but the foolish builder builds his on the sand. And when the wind comes and the storm comes the house that's built on the rock stands, but the house that's built on the sand falls. And it kind of reminded us about Sandy, you know, and what was going on.
Normally, actors and guests don't meet until the performance. But Sasha and John met a few months ago, at one of Theater J's post-show discussions. In fact, John actually requested that Sasha perform his piece.
I'm really honored, but you feel a sense of wanting to be very careful with the material because people are being very open in sharing their lives and sharing their experiences. And you're going to be performing for the people who have shared this material and so you really want to do it justice.
As for what Wednesday's material will entail, Grace Overbeke says it runs the gamut.
There's one piece that is of the genesis of this wonderful writer Baracka's views on race and there's also a really beautiful biography by Darlene about her experiences growing up in this small town just south of Canada. And Jimmy is a wonderful writer and so he wrote this beautiful poem.
And these writers, Baracka, Darlene, Jimmy, John, the many others, Grace says, they run the gamut, too.
In the monologues, you hear people referencing their time in graduate school, they'll reference their time, you know, working on a construction site, in government. Really, it's every imaginable background.
Just as Grace had her eyes and ears opened by that homeless woman near Logan Circle, she hopes people who attend "Stories From the Kitchen" will have their eyes and ears opened, too, and realize that behind every person they encounter there's a lifetime of stories just waiting to be told.
The next "Stories From the Kitchen" is Dec. 19 at Theater J. The performance is free and open to the public. For more on the show and to watch a video clip from June's production, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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